By Ziyad M. Hijazi, MD, MPH
I’ve been taking care of Lauren all her life. She was born with a defective heart valve, and over the years she has had multiple surgeries to implant artificial valves as she’s grown. In August 2012, we implanted a new artificial valve without open heart surgery to replace one of the previously implanted valves that had stopped working properly.
But shortly after she had the procedure and returned home, her leg became extremely swollen due to blood clots. She was brought back to Rush and taken to the , where a catheter was inserted into her leg to deliver tPA to dissolve the clots. I was not doing the procedure, but because she was my patient and I was concerned about her, I watched from the control room.
Suddenly, in the middle of the procedure, she became hypotensive and went into full-blown cardiac arrest. I rushed inside the cath lab and started doing chest compressions. Our team of doctors and nurses fought hard to revive her, and we were able to restore regular sinus rhythm after 30 minutes. But because she had been down so long, we were concerned that she’d have irreversible brain damage. I spoke to her parents and explained what had happened, and they were distraught. I told them I would try talking to Lauren and see if she responded. I went back into the cath lab, took her hand and said, “Lauren, if you hear me, squeeze my hand!” The moment she squeezed my hand, I was so relieved I almost started to cry. I knew then that she was going to be OK.
Because I often see and treat patients over a long period of time, I get to know them and their families very well. They become like family to me. If Lauren had died that day, I would have been devastated. It would have been like losing one of my own. In my book, it’s a miracle that she’s alive and that she didn’t suffer any permanent brain damage. She’s back in school and living her life like any other 12-year-old. This is why I chose to go into medicine: There’s no better feeling than saving a life.
Ziyad M. Hijazi, MD, MPH, is director of the Rush Center for Congenital and Structural Heart Disease. He is a leader in the development and use of percutaneous techniques and devices for the repair of congenital and structural heart defects.